The demise of the River Room prompted me to -- what else? -- spend countless hours on the internet.
Specifically, to get a peek at the restaurants that once fed Twin Cities shoppers, a subject that neatly fits into the intersection of several of my obsessions, namely, architecture and design, department stores and local history.
Naturally, I turned to one of my favorite time-suck destinations, the Norton & Peel photo archive at the Minnesota Historical Society's website. Don't know it? You should. It's an incredible -- and free -- resource.
This digital library holds thousands of easily searchable images, most of them photograped by Walter Norton and Clifford Peel between the mid-1920s and the late 1960s; the pre-1925 images are credited to their predecessor, C.J. Hibbard.
While stumbling across a number of finds, I did discover some disappointing gaps. Where, for example, is the one-and-only Fountain Room at Young-Quinlan? Or such mid-century classics as the Valley View Room at Dayton's Southdale, the Minnesota Room at Donaldson's Southdale, or the Bubbling Kettle at Dayton's Rosedale? If you've got images of them, send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I'll post them.
Here's what I found:
The restaurant inside Donaldson's Glass Block, Nicollet Av. and 6th St., Minneapolis, 1910. The elaborate room was designed by noted Minneapolis decorator John S. Bradstreet. His aesthetic lives in on in the incredible Prindle House period room, saved from a Duluth mansion, at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
When President William Howard Taft visited Minneapolis in 1911, he enjoyed what appears to be an all-male luncheon in another one of John Bradstreet's sumptuously appointed dining rooms at Donaldson's Glass Block (so named for the five-story building's many windows). The next time President Obama drops in on Minneapolis, wouldn't it be great if he cracked open a popover at the Oak Grill?
Skip ahead 37 years to a different iteration of the in-store dining experience at the Donaldson Grill, 1948. Here's the story on Donaldson's: Scottish immigrants (and brothers) William and Lawrence Donaldson opened their store in the mid-1880s. Over the decades it eventually grew to occupy the half-block on Nicollet Avenue between 6th and 7th Streets, and remained there for nearly a century before moving across the street into City Center in 1982 (without, unfortunately, a restaurant). Several months later, the store's original building was heavily damaged in a spectacular Thanksgiving Day fire. The site is now occupied by Gaviidae Common; Donaldson's (its corporate ownership eventually dropped the apostrophe) disappeared in the late 1980s.
The Capitol Dining Room at the Golden Rule in St. Paul, 1951. The store, at 7th and Minnesota streets, dated to 1886. Its parent company also owned Donaldson's, and in 1961 it became Donaldson's-Golden Rule, then eventually Donaldson's. The stately building, still standing, was converted to an office building in the early 1980s when the store moved to its short-lived new home in Town Square.
A 1937 image of the Tea Room at the Emporium, located across Minnesota Street from the Golden Rule. The store operated from 1911 to 1970, and the building still stands -- it was converted to Metro Square office building after the store closed -- although its facade has been completely altered. What a great-looking room, right?
The Sky Room at Dayton's, Nicollet Avenue and 7th Street, Minneapolis, 1960. In 1947, Dayton's completed a major expansion of its store, adding several floors to the 8th Street side of the building. The top floor included two restaurants: the Oak Grill, a men's-only dining room (women were allowed only with male escorts), and the airy Sky Room, the women's restaurant, with its glamorous Waterford chandeliers and enormous windows. This photo was taken during a Santa breakfast. If the chandeliers look familiar, it's because some of them later showed up 12 floors below on the store's main level, and the others found a new home in the River Room at the company's St. Paul store. After nearly 100 years on Nicollet Avenue, the Dayton's name disappeared in 2001, and the store was converted to Macy's in 2005.
F.W. Woolworth in St. Paul, 1956. The national five-and-dime chain opened a new store in downtown St. Paul in the 1950s, and like most Woolworth's, it included a lunch counter. The store closed in 1994, but the Minnesota Street building still stands, empty.
Fast food, 1949-style: Walgreen Drugs. The store was located on the first floor of the long-gone Nicollet Hotel in downtown Minneapolis, where Nicollet, Hennepin and Washington avenues converge. The site has been a parking lot since the late 1980s.
Another downtown Minneapolis Walgreen's, in a photo from 1937. There's no address on the photograph, but Walgreen's also operated stores at Hennepin and 6th and Nicollet and 9th. Both have been closed since the 1980s.
The soda fountain at Clancy's Drug, 50th Street and Halifax Avenue in Edina, 1951.
The lunch counter at Snyder's drug store at E. Lake Street and 27th Avenue in Minneapolis, 1957. How about those prices?
Finally, the year-round Sidewalk Cafe in the Garden Court at Southdale, 1964.
Thanks, Minnesota Historical Society.